The power of a challenge

We asked Dr Katherine Bond, a world renowned sport and performance psychologist, who’s supported athletes at 5 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and is a keen cyclist, to write us a blog on the power of a challenge. We think taking on a challenge is just the tonic, but we thought we’d hear from an expert on just why that is!

Challenges… everywhere we look, we’re encouraged or enticed to take on a challenge – whether it’s at work, at home or at play! It seems we humans can’t quite resist taking on a challenge; we probably all know people who are ‘challenge junkies’ – those who seem to think life isn’t worth living unless they’re packing stuff in and planning their next crazy mission (maybe you’re one of them!). Even for the less compulsive achievers amongst us, we seem to gravitate towards taking on a new and fresh challenge every now and again.

So why are we so taken by pushing ourselves, having a focus or doing something ‘extra’-ordinary? Well, it’s pretty simple. We’re driven to grow, explore, improve and try new things. It’s a fundamental human tendency – we want and need to push our boundaries and get outside our comfort zone – and we’re curious about what we’re capable of. Going outside our comfort zone – for a specific purpose – enables us to learn about ourselves and what we’re capable of, gain a great sense of achievement, and do something with real focus and that has meaning.

Think about it – chances are that those times in your life and job when you’ve been most stretched, under pressure, or challenged have been the times of most learning and growth (and often the times of most hardship and stress too). Growing and expanding feels good – it makes us feel alive, human; it feeds our soul; it fuels our confidence; it helps us shape and evolve our identity and it adds to our sense of worth as people. Staying static and in our comfort zone is not in our DNA – and times when we feel like we’re treading water, have little meaning or purpose, or have been too long in our comfort zone are deeply demotivational, and sometimes psychologically damaging periods in our life.

So there you have it. Challenges really are good for the soul. And the best challenge to take on? Well, there’s no ‘right’ answer here, because it’s a deeply personal thing. But here’s 5 typical key ingredients – 1) a challenge with real social purpose – a benefit for others; 2) one that pushes you physically; 3) a challenge that’s done with other people (a shared experience or endeavour); 4) something that’s new and different for you and 5) results in a real, genuine sense of achievement.

An end to end tour, with other people, in aid of a charity, that pushes your boundaries – and is something you’ve never done before? Sounds like just the tonic!